In the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, Interior Alaska got the first snowstorm of this winter. It was a record breaking storm with 11.2 inch (28.4 cm) of snow measured at Fairbanks International Airport on Tuesday. This amount is the highest daily total ever recorded in Interior Alaska in September. The previous daily record in September was 7 inches (17.8 cm) in 1972.
The storm left over 15000 households, i.e. more than one third of the Fairbanks metropolitan area households, without electricity. Some of my colleagues did not have their power back on Friday!
The snow was unusually wet for Interior Alaska conditions. Wet snow is more sticky than dry snow. Thus, it accumulated higher and at a different angle on twigs than dry snow would have done. Wet snow is also heavier than dry snow. Thus, many trees collapsed under the snow load and downed power lines.
Even though the energy provider sent their crews out immediately to search for, and fix the interrupted lines, it takes time to locate and remove all the damage in an area of 32.7 square miles (86.4 km2). Furthermore, some power lines deliver electricity from the Eva Creek wind-power farm near Healy, 110 miles (177 km) bird route southwest of Fairbanks. The power lines go through uninhabited permafrost-underlain terrain with many creeks and lakes, and without roads. This means travel on snow machines.
Fairbanksans are used to outages even though electricity is essential for furnaces to run, houses to stay habitable, water wells to function. Some have generators for such events. Some switch to heating and cooking on wood stoves, taking bucket baths of melted snow and getting water from the spring in Fox or other springs in the area. Others take shelter at family or friends’ houses who have power.
Every household has a collection of flash lights or re-chargeable LED lights. They re-charge the batteries at work, friends or family or where ever they find access to power.
Can you imagine to be without power at below freezing temperatures without heating and water?
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You can find other weather related posts of Focus Alaska on why students in Alaska have no snow days, but rain days, survival strategies when traveling in the wild of Alaska, and Alaska’s breakup lottery.
Photos: G. Kramm
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